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Ma’at, Order and Everything in Between

I recently started reading Violence in the Service of Order: the Religious Framework for Sanctioned Killings in Ancient Egypt by Kerry Muhlenstein, and while I’m only a chapter or so into the book, it’s given me quite a bit to think about in terms of ma’at and how it might be applied to the modern era. In the first chapter of the book, Muhlenstein talks about how most sanctioned acts of violence (such as corporeal punishment for criminals, ritual slayings/sacrifices) in AE were done to help preserve the order that existed in that era:

The concept of sacrifice acting to preserve rather than destroy is well articulated by Davies, who postulates that throughout human society “the act [sacrifice] was required, to save the people from calamity and the cosmos from collapse. Their object was, therefore, more to preserve than to destroy life.”69 Thus, sacrifice, in partnership with punishment and law, was aimed at bringing about social and cosmic order, at establishing the correct unity.70 This is especially true of ancient Egypt, a society which concentrated so heavily on the correct cosmic and social order embodied in Ma ‘at. As Willems writes, neither human sacrifice nor execution was so much a matter of revenge as it was an act of countering disorder. (Page 26)

In addition to killing to preserve Order, there is also a sense of othering that often comes with it. When the Egyptians found someone that was other, and this other worked against their perceptions of what was Orderly (read: in ma’at), then the person in question would be aligned with rebels, with people Who Are Not a Part of Our Cool Kids Club (aka society), and would then be disposed of in whatever means they saw fit. All in an attempt to preserve their ideas of Order:

That which qualified someone as a potential sacrificial victim was a sense of “otherness.” In some cases it could be a particularly valuable or holy-and thus “other”-victim. More often it was “exterior or marginal individuals, incapable of establishing or sharing the social bonds that link the rest of the inhabitants. Their status as foreigners or enemies, their servile condition, or simply their age prevents these future victims from fully integrating themselves into the community.”82 It was just such a lack of integration that made both the extraordinarily holy or great and the extraordinarily unholy or despicable individual a candidate for sacrifice. In Egypt, in particular, those who, through their actions, identified themselves with Isfet, could become candidates for sacrifice. Thus Willems writes that it is in keeping with Egyptian thought that their criminals should be sacrificed. (Pages 28-29)

Think of it like a playing-for-keeps execration. But instead of burning a sheet of paper, you’re burning people.

This got me thinking about Order and other-ness, and how it has applied to various cultures across the centuries. While ancient Egypt was relatively similar in how it did things throughout its history, there were still changes that occurred as the culture’s ideas about what was socially acceptable or what was considered to be within ma’at shifted over the years. And even if ancient Egypt had been static in its approach to what was considered the best sort of Order to build a society around, we don’t live in ancient Egypt anymore, and some of their ideas probably don’t fit into the modern practitioner’s world view.

So that then begs to ask, what sort of Order are we trying to build? What sort of Order should we be aiming for? Who or what should be considered as “other”? What kinds of behaviour fall outside of ma’at? Who or what do we want to exclude, if we want to exclude anything/one at all?

If I look to my home country for ideas, I can see that our country’s Order is supposed to be based off freedom and pursuit of your dreams. That sounds great on paper, but our society seems to only want that for a small group of people (originally only for Protestant, white, married men who owned land). The list of “others” in our society is incredibly long, and brings a lot of inequality into our ideas of what proper Order should look like. Of course, those who fall into the “other” category don’t particularly like being excluded from the protections of Order, and as such have been trying to change what Order looks like for our country. This is why we are currently in the middle of a struggle between several groups of people. Some of which want to change the Order of our society. Some of which want it to stay the same.

Possibly due to the fact that so many Kemetics are from the US, or possibly because people are relatively similar across time and location, this has been mirrored in our own community as well:

  • Some Kemetics don’t want any sort of social issues involved in the religion, because that doesn’t fit into their idea of Order. When people start to push social issues into the community, they become “othered” for their attempts.
  • Some Kemetics want to bring social issues in because it’s part of their idea of ma’at. These people might be inclined to “other” those who don’t support social issues or work to fix them.
  • Some Kemetics are okay with certain social issues, but not all social issues. They might only “other” particularly bad cases of bigotry.
  • Some Kemetics want a community that is broken up based off of practice type and model. The practice style would then create the Order, and anyone who doesn’t practice in a similar fashion might be “othered”.
  • Some Kemetics want a community where social behaviour is more important than practice structure. In this case, the code of behaviour becomes the Order, the practice style is irrelevant, and those who don’t fit into the ideal for behaviour might be “othered” regardless of practice style.
  • Some Kemetics want a no holds barred sort of community, where anyone can say anything regardless of how it’s said. In this case, no one will ever be “othered” due to their all-encompassing definition/perceptions of Order.
  • Other Kemetics want everyone to behave a certain particular way, because that’s how they consider ma’at to apply to social behaviour. They will “other” anyone who doesn’t behave exactly as they want, regardless of the legitimacy (or lack thereof) for their actions.

You’ve got a lot of different ideas of how our community should be built, run, etc. You’ve got a lot of different ideas about what Order should look like and who should be allowed to participate or not (aka who should be considered “othered” and who shouldn’t). It should go without saying that this creates some level of conflict between all of us, especially when it comes to that “othering”.

This can be further compounded by the format that we use to interact with one another. It’s pretty well known that text is hard to understand in terms of tone, and it can often lead to people blowing up, misunderstandings and arguments. These kinds of interactions are particularly important, as our understanding of what should be considered a part of Order and who should be “othered” will influence how we handle difficult social interaction within the community.

Of course, there are a few tools in our arsenal for figuring out whether someone’s behaviour is within our perceived idea of Order. We have the yardstick of dickery to help dictate whether someone is being a dick or not, and some suggestions on how to handle those situations. In cases where forums or FB groups are the venue, there are rules that dictate the group’s idea of Order that you’re supposed to follow as a member, which also give details on how to handle rule breakers.

However, these things don’t always work as there are plenty of groups who don’t apply their rules consistently or effectively when people break them (aka groups with lackluster admin staff). And when the interaction happens outside of a location that has admin staff, it becomes a matter of one Kemetic’s idea of Order and “othering”  clashing against another Kemetic’s idea of Order and “othering”. This is where most of the worst friction can occur, as some Kemetics believe that those that fall into their “other” category are fair game to treat however they see fit. There are Kemetics who simply don’t have good peopling skills, and make social faux pas regularly. Other co-religionists may then jump in and take sides, and it can spiral out of control if we’re not careful.

There are a lot of grey areas for figuring out how to handle such interactions within the community, and each individual will probably have different ideas on the best way to handle them. Figuring out what to do about these grey areas will probably be a less-than-smooth process, as is usually the case when you’re trying to establish a protocol or identify your idea of Order:

This is relevant in the modern era, given that our society is not entirely just or fair to it’s people. That may leave many readers wondering “how does ma’at fit into such a society? Is it better to go with what is already established, even if it possibly harms portions of the population? What is considered Good or Right in such a setting?” If literature from the First Intermediate Period has anything to say about it, ma’at rests in caring for the vulnerable and underserved, and working to reestablish true justice, fairness and order within the surrounding society. That means that sometimes you have to be the fly in the ointment, because reestablishing what is Good in a society often means upsetting others. But if one never steps forward to help reestablish, then ma’at can never prevail. Karenga, 61

If nothing else, this book has highlighted a potentially glaring issue in our community as it continues to grow and move forward: we haven’t fully established what we consider to be a part of our Order, nor have we established who we think should be “othered” (if anyone at all).

In the business world, it’s recommended that you create a Mission Statement when you create your business as a means to help direct your business where you want it to go. It also helps your employees to understand what your business is out to achieve, its ethics and its approach to business. Then the employee can tailor their actions to fit within that business model. Our community doesn’t really have such a thing outside of “living in ma’at”. Of course, ma’at is subjective and vague, and as mentioned above, this obscurity can create a lot of friction between members. Perhaps this is because we haven’t taken the time to truly discuss what we think a modern Kemetic community should look like beyond the basics of “maintain ma’at”.

Maybe it’s time that we started to look into changing that. Otherwise, I foresee a lot of the same friction that is occurring now continuing indefinitely into the future.

Do you think there is any benefit in discussing what modern Kemeticism’s idea Order should look like? If so, what do you think our community’s Order should look like?

Do you think that there are any particular groups of people that would fit into the “other” category? Why or why not? If you believe that there is a group worth “othering”, would they ever be able to move from that category, or are they permanently labeled as such?

How do you think the community should handle the idea of a mission statement beyond “live in ma’at”? How should we handle the friction that occurs between different members that may have drastically different ideas about what the “correct” way to practice Kemeticism is?

If anyone decides to take a stab at these prompts, let me know and I’ll create a responses section below!

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2016 in Boat Paddlers Arsenal, Kemeticism

 

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Shadow Work: A Never-ending Process

It’s fairly well known that shadow work is sort of a pain. It’s difficult to work through less-than-ideal parts of yourself or your life. It’s hard to figure out how to heal damage that has been done to you, and it can be challenging to fit such heavy work into what is likely an already jam-packed life schedule. Not to mention that the gods rarely give you a game plan on how to exactly go about performing your shadow work- in so many ways, shadow work is sort of a headache in the making. It’s really no wonder that many of us stall out very quickly on trying to figure the whole shadow work thing out.

On top of everything listed above, I think one of the largest pitfalls regarding shadow work is that many of us assume that we’ll get a list of things we need to work through, and then once we’ve managed to mark everything off of that list, our shadow work is effectively “done” and we won’t have to work on it anymore. But then we usually find out later that we’re regressing and falling back into old patterns and routines. And the next thing you know, the gods show back up and tell us to fix some of the same things that we thought were already addressed and handled. Like many things in life, shadow work is something that is more effective if you incorporate it as a sort of ongoing, long-term practice or procedure within your life, but I don’t know that the gods have made that very obvious or apparent to many us.

For this post, I’d like to explore some ways to re-frame shadow work into something that is more on-going and less of a one off sort of thing. I’m going to use two examples that make sense to me as a means to help illustrate why shadow work should be a continuous thing, not a one-time process.

Example one: Shadow work is like dental work

I know, I know. “oh gods, you’re going to talk about teeth??” No one wants to hear about their oral health, especially when discussing paganism, but hear me out. As most of you probably could guess, many people come into the dentist after long periods of neglecting their oral health. It’s really not uncommon for someone to come in and say “I haven’t seen a dentist in 20 years”, and you can tell by looking at their teeth.

Typically when a mouth is in that level of disrepair (as many of us who are starting on a heaping pile of shadow work often are), you create what we call a treatment plan as a means to address all of the issues of the mouth so that the patient can be put back into optimal oral health. There is a certain procedure/method that is used by dentists to do this, and I think it is useful when considering shadow work.

The first step in any sort of treatment plan is to get rid of the big fires. That means that you address the work that is preventing your patient from eating or chewing properly. Anything that is actively painful or rotting in their head gets fixed before you work on the more superficial or cosmetic parts of their mouth. As you progress through a treatment plan, you deal with the biggest issues first and work your way down to the smaller stuff. Of course, sometimes a patient really wants their smile to all be fixed right now, but that’s not usually feasible if you’ve been slacking on your oral health for a few decades.

Shadow work is the same way. Start with putting out the biggest fires first. What is the most crucial to your daily life? What are you ignoring that has the largest impact on your living situation? What can you fix that will lessen up everything else you need to work on? Start with that first.

But here is where the ongoing comes in.

Once a patient has gotten their mouth all fixed up and beautiful again, what do you think happens if they don’t continue to upkeep their mouth? I’ll give you a hint: what got their mouth into such a state of disrepair in the first place? The answer is, as you probably guessed, a lack of upkeep. Mouths are not things you can simply stop taking care of, and expect their health to maintain all on its own. Its much like any other body part- you need to keep it clean and maintained if you want the health of said body part to last. Your mouth is no exception. If you get thousands of dollars of work done in your mouth, but then never floss or brush or go in for cleanings, you can expect that your mouth will go right back into disrepair in due time.

And shadow work is no exception.

Example two: Shadow work is like owning a house or property

Another way to frame this discussion is from the perspective of a house owner. My grandmother owns a house on property, and on the surface, everything looks relatively nice, but when you take a look at the structure of the house critically, you can tell that she hasn’t done any maintenance work for a long time. Sure, some of the stuff is superficial and not very important, but there are other things that are turning into time bombs due to a lack of maintenance. Because of the delay in getting work done, what might have originally been a $50 job is going to turn into a $500 job.

Just like with dentistry, you often maintain a house by fixing the most important stuff first, and handling the less important, more superficial stuff later on. You may want to paint your living room walls, but I’ll wager that you’ll want to fix the hole in your roof before you bother with the painting. Otherwise, all of that paint goes to waste during the next rain storm.

And just like with a house or teeth, there are regular intervals for maintaining certain things around your house. In the desert, we all know that you should get your A/C checked out before the summer months hit. Otherwise, you’re looking at spending the first super hot weekend without any air conditioning. Almost every part of a house needs to have regular check-ups and replacements. Roofs need to be re-shingled. Appliances need to have regular maintenance done. Your air filter needs to be swapped out once a month. Things need to happen all the time in order to keep a house in good shape.

Bringing it all together: Balancing action with planning

So I’ve probably driven home that regular maintenance is a good thing. But how does this apply directly to shadow work? Here are some ways that I take the above examples and use them in my personal shadow work process.

I’ve always used a system where I have high points and low points. High points would be the equivalent of spring cleaning- we (me and the gods) sit down and look at what needs to be fixed, where I want to go, what the priorities are for everyone involved. When I’m trying to figure out what you want to do in terms of shadow work, I often ask myself some of the following questions:

  • What exactly am I doing that is problematic?
  • What parts of myself do I want to improve?
  • What have I been putting off in terms of improvement?
  • Have I been slacking on maintaining anything I fixed in the past? Am I regressing at all?
  • What have others suggested I work on? Are their suggestions valid? If so, how can I implement them?
  • What am I doing that is working? How can I ensure that I keep these practices up?

Once we figure out what we want, we then plan out how to get it. Though they probably did more of the planning in the earlier stages, because they were the ones running the show initially. The further I’ve gotten into shadow work, the more I have been included in what I want to do, and how I think would be a good way to go about getting what I want (or what the gods want). I think ideally, the gods want me to be able to do this process on my own without their help.

And then the low points are resting points. As I’ve said before, you can’t work all the time, and sometimes life is too busy for me to be doing heavy shadow work. But that being said, I always have to keep my eyes open to the status of my life and person. Like I mentioned in the house analogy above, I might not be able to re-shingle my roof right now, but I can be aware that it needs to be done, and that it will need to be handled. So I might mentally prep to address that during the next meeting with the gods, even though we won’t be touching it for a while. Due to life and its cycles, there have been times when we’ve had to shelf projects and shadow work. We’ve got times where I already know I’m going to be plowing through a bunch of crap all at once (the Mysteries is a good example of this), and so kinda like running a farm, I try to plan for those kinds of personal seasons. I know when I need to plant my seeds, I know when I need to harvest, and I can rest during the recession of summer if you will.

This is the basic structure for how I maintain my shadow work “practice”. I balance out actively working on what I want to achieve with planning for how I will maintain what I have accomplished through previous shadow work. It’s an ongoing process of action and rest that doesn’t really stop (though it can be put on hold for certain life events). I start each cycle by putting out the largest fires first (if any cropped up while I wasn’t paying attention) and then progressively work on fixing everything else as resources are made available. And I think that ideally, once everything is all fixed (I still haven’t really reached this point, but I feel like I’m getting there), the goal will be to maintain myself while helping others work on their “houses”.

The more I work on shadow work, the more I believe that it’s best viewed as an ongoing process. I’ve found that by going back and reevaluating what I’ve done and where I’m at, I can make sure that I don’t slide back into bad habits, and I can ensure that I’m going in the direction that I want to go in. Practice makes perfect, and by consistently addressing my more negative traits, I am better able to fix the things that I want to fix.

How do you approach shadow work? Do you think that shadow work should be an on-going process? Or do you feel that it’s better to only perform shadow work when you need to?

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Not All Polytheists

This past weekend I noticed a thread on tumblr circulating about a new post over on Gods & Radicals about extreme-Right politics and it’s appearance in Paganism/polytheism. When I first saw the thread, I skimmed through the post, shrugged my shoulders and moved on. To me, there wasn’t anything particularly earth-shattering written in said post. It discusses some of the hallmarks of authoritarianism, and how it can manifest in people’s ideals, and then goes over some people and groups that have been shown to have these ideals and/or purport them. It then discusses how the New Right might be influencing certain groups, which groups are possibly more at risk than others, and then discusses some ways to (possibly) combat Fascism in our communities.

I don’t know that I agree with all aspects of the post and I don’t know that I would have written about the topic in the same way, but there was nothing that was particularly interesting in said post to me so I closed my browser and moved on. (ETA: There has been an update to the original post called “The Uncomfortable Mirror”)

But then I realized that everyone seemed to be in a huff over this post. Some people are calling to boycott G&R. Some people want to even boycott people who support G&R. I was so confused by the backlash that I had to go and read the post again. And again. And again. And then I had to ask some other people to read the post as well because I honestly couldn’t see what the big deal is. The only problematic thing I could find was that HUAR was listed as a resource when it’s been proven to be a problematic place in the past.

I then logged into WP and found that several people have also written responses to this post (links at the bottom), and only through reading those posts have I begun to get an idea of why everyone is so worked up. To put it very succinctly, the overall reason why people are upset is basically this: “How dare you lump People Like Me in with people like that!” With a hint of “hierarchies are not always bad” and “quit mixing your politics with my religion”.

That’s it. That’s all it seems to come down to. Here are a few snippets to highlight this if you don’t feel like reading the posts in their entirety:

This article associates many of our most meaningful and vibrant traditions with some of the most vile ideologies lurking at the edges of our community. It’s no wonder many Pagans and polytheists who have read this piece are upset. (Beckett)

It’s also not ok to claim that those who do not automatically share political ideology in common with those particular individual religions are somehow flirting with some form of light fascism—this is a silencing tactic. Given the current climate of anger and fear (both in the US and abroad), it’s a powerful silencing tactic. And it’s wrong, devastatingly wrong. It’s a wrong thing to do to associate others with different political or economic ideologies with vile things such as racism, sexism, and totalitarianism, and a destruction of diversity. (Dawson)

I guess my point here is that I too am concerned about right-wing influences creeping into devotional polytheism, but the way that Gods & Radicals has chosen to express this sentiment is extremely problematic. Making sweeping statements like the one I quoted above will only serve to alienate those devotional polytheists who, like me, side with the Left. (Marian)

Now I can sorta get where people are coming from. It’s frustrating when you feel like you and your co-religionists are not really a Thing, and someone is claiming that you are all this Thing. Trust me when I say that I know exactly how that feels as it is a very constant problem over on Tumblr. It can be frustrating and invalidating, especially if you are trying very hard not to endorse or be the Thing that someone is saying or insinuating you are participating in. This is further compounded by the possibility that someone could read the list on the original post and ignore the disclaimer, and instantly assume that everyone in that group is Bad News (which would encompass nearly every part of the Pagan/polytheist community, since the groups listed pretty much includes all of us in some way or another).

However, if you are so put out by the notion that other people in your religion and/or community are not exactly like you, and may not be supporting the best of ideals, then that is an issue and you really need to look closer at your religious community. Every group has problematic members. Every single one. Quite honestly, I consider the list that was placed in the G&R post a little useless, because nearly every. single. religious community has problematic people- including those who are very right leaning. Even in cases where a religion is set up to be equality-driven and very left leaning (such as Kemeticism and Shinto), you’ll find folks who manage to skew it to serve more extreme agendas and needs. Hell, even the cultures who practiced these religions had a tendency of doing so. You can find ways to make any religion be extremist, and/or extremely damaging to its people.

The more responses to the G&R post that I read, the more I felt like I was trapped in a #notallmen discussion, or even an #allivesmatter discussion. That is to say, it felt like people were blatantly missing the point because they were too wrapped up in their personal discomfort to even consider if the points being raised were valid or useful. If all you got from the article is “how dare you lump me in with them”, I feel like you’re missing the point. I get that some people believe that their religious category or community shouldn’t be lumped in with Fascism (this seems to be especially true of those who are from the Devotional Polytheist group/community), but the truth still remains that every group has problems and we should be having discussions on how to combat these problems. Even if you haven’t seen the problematic members, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there or that they don’t exist. I feel that when someone is raising concerns about a community or group, the answer isn’t to put your hands up and say “don’t look at me!” because you don’t think you’re part of the problem. This is such an important conversation to have, and it’s all of our responsibilities to keep our communities safe, and to make them unwelcome to people who are hurtful to other community members.

I had made a post a few years ago about how branding is everything, and I feel that it’s relevant and apt for this conversation. If your community has shitty people in it, even if they’re fringe, give them enough time and they will begin to effect whether people want to join your religious community or not. We can’t combat these issues and problems by sticking our fingers in our ears and screaming “that’s not me, quit lumping my group in with that other group that has nothing to do with me” because eventually that fringe group can and will become too loud to ignore, which in turn means that they will eventually become your problem, too (as can be seen in US politics right now). The act of calling attention to problematic behaviours and trends within the larger community is not the same as saying everyone in the community is bad. We need to learn to understand that calling attention to a problem (even if the wording or method leaves some of us wanting), and stating that there is a problem isn’t the same as saying that everyone is problematic. Just like with women raising awareness about how sexism makes them uncomfortable around men doesn’t inherently mean that all men are horrible. Just like when the black community says that black lives matter doesn’t necessarily or even inherently mean that other lives don’t matter either.

allhousesmatter

Now don’t get me wrong, as I said above I don’t necessarily agree with all aspects of the G&R post (the wording isn’t the best, I don’t think that the list of possible vulnerable groups was useful because we’re all vulnerable in some way or another, the inability to comment and discuss on the page is not helpful and can give the wrong idea about the nature of the post, and the lack of author, date, etc. is confusing and frustrating), and quite frankly I find that this article does a much better job at explaining how modern authoritarianism takes form and how otherwise ordinary people can turn towards authoritarianism under certain circumstances. It also goes over what people who tend to learn towards authoritarianism tend to look for in ideologies (whether political or religious, hint: reconstructionism would be a huge draw to authoritarianism types based off of the findings in this article). I also don’t necessarily disagree with every point raised in the counter posts that I pulled quotes from above (f’ex: I don’t find hierarchies inherently bad, depending on how they’re used, which was a concern raised by Beckett. I agree that the wording in the listing wasn’t the best, and the disclaimers might not be enough in some situations). The truth is that I’m rather ambivalent about the G&R post all together, and I thought it was common knowledge that we’ve got problematic people in every community (hence my confusion at why people are so worked up). However, I still can’t agree with the idea that the G&R post is entirely out of line simply based off of the notion of “how dare you lump me in with them.” We can’t fix the problems we won’t acknowledge. We can’t acknowledge problems if we can’t get past our own discomfort long enough to even consider that there is a problem. And we can’t fix the problems we acknowledge if we don’t actively work against said problems.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to help make our communities safe for everyone, and if we’re all too busy going “that’s not me, don’t lump me in with them” instead of discussing how to actually deal with the problem at hand, how on earth are we going to get anywhere? Instead of wasting time going back and forth on “who is really the Fascist here because it’s not me”, how about we focus on ways to get crappy people or ideologies out of our communities so that more people can safely enjoy the religions that we all support and love?

Relevant Posts:

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2016 in Kemeticism, Rambles, Uncategorized

 

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Worshiping the Unknown

Figuring out how to worship, venerate or work with a deity can be challenging. You’ve got to read up on their mythology, their history, and the culture and religion that surrounded them back in the day. And once you get through the mountain of reading material, you have to sit down and figure out how to work everything that you’ve read into something practical and useful that will look remotely like a religious practice. But as challenging as figuring out what to do with known gods can be, there is something that can be even more difficult — trying to figure out how you’re supposed to venerate unknown entities. Whether unknown gods or entities that aren’t gods at all, it can be nerve wracking to figure out how create a practice or routine when there is virtually no reading material at all. And if your unknown entity isn’t from earth or doesn’t have a known religion or culture that you can read up on, the challenges can become even more daunting as you try and figure out what to do.

I’ve had the pleasure of finding a whole host of entities whose names will never be known on earth. Their names will never grace a text book. Their cultures and places of origin will never cross a human’s lips. For all intents and purposes, they are unknown to humanity. Getting to know each of these entities and their back-histories has taken quite a long time and a heap of effort on all of our parts. My experience has been that getting to know non-physical entities takes time and energy, regardless of how well known they are or aren’t. However, there are definitely some unique challenges to each side of the spectrum (known vs. unknown).

Stepping into the Unknown: Creating Stability

I think the biggest challenge for working with unknown entities (as opposed to known entities) is that there is no history or stories you can glean from in order to get a sense of who they are or how they act. With a bigger name god, you can read up on them, learn what they like or don’t like, or get a feel for how they handle situations or problems. You can read their mythos and learn if they’re a hot head or if they stay cool under stress. You can learn about that one time they overdosed on that concoction that they like and work that into your relationship with them. With unknown entities, you are starting from ground zero and have to rely solely on your own intuition and discernment based off of what the entity may or may not tell you. It’s very daunting to know that there is no one you can cross reference your information with. There is no text book or historical record that can confirm what this entity told you. Working with unknown entities can definitely put your discernment to the test in the way that known entities might not.

I’ve found that one of the most important things for success when starting from ground zero is to create some level of stability for both you and the entity you’re communicating with. Interacting across planes of existence uses up a fair amount of energy, and entities that don’t have hundreds or thousands of devotees aren’t going to have a lot of excess energy to interface with this realm. Working to create a place of stability for interaction can help to make your interactions easier and hopefully will require less energy from both parties. This can manifest in a number of ways. You could work to meet up at the same time every day or week, so that the entity can create a sort of schedule to work around. You could always meet up in the same location, to make it easier for them to manifest in whatever space you’re in. You could keep a certain deck or space in your house for them, so that it’s easier for them to alight from said space or utilize and “own” whatever items you might be using for communication (this is particularly useful if you use decks of cards for communicating). Or you could start each communication “session” with the same sound, song, scent, actions, etc. to create something very stable for the entity to latch on to.

I truly can’t overemphasize how stability and repetition can help an entity gain an easier entrance/access to this plane. If you can find a way to create a stable place for you and the entity to interact, it’ll make your interactions much more frequent and more productive.

But how can I create a stable space or practice if I know nothing about them?

This of course is the crux of so many things. It’s the ever present paradox of how can you create a space if you don’t know what they like? How can you communicate with them if you can barely communicate at all? How do I know what to offer if I don’t know what they like? How can I do anything without ensuring that I don’t upset them or make a social faux pas? There are multiple ways to tackle these problems, and there is no single right or wrong method to overcoming these challenges, but here are some recommendations that I can give.

Take Copious Notes

Even if you aren’t very good at communicating with your unknown entity, there has to be at least some level of communication in order for you to know that they exist. Take a close look at what you recall from the communications you’ve had with the entity. What did you notice about your interaction? What can you remember from it? Some things to take note of:

  • Clothing, hair style, form, manner of dress. Were they humanoid? Something else?
  • Location cues: where were you when interacting? what can you glean from the background/surroundings?
  • Were there any scents? How about sounds? Utilize all 5 senses when recalling an interaction
  • Did they have any mannerisms of note? Are they uptight? relaxed? Are they immaculately dressed or were they in the equivalent of “street clothes”?
  • What formats do they use to communicate with you most often? What can you glean from these methods?

Look at every angle of any interaction you’ve had with them, and write down as much as you can. I would recommend doing this for every interaction you have with them until you feel more comfortable with things. This will form the basis for everything that follows.

Apply Your Notes

The next step is to look at what you’ve written down and use them to create your stability. There will likely be no ready-made icons or statues that you could use for your unknown entity on a shrine, but you may be able to use something that already exists instead. If the person looked humanoid, you may be able to find a picture of a human that looks like them, print that image off, and use it as a sort of icon on your shrine space. If you’ve got art skills or know someone who can draw, you may be able to create an art piece depicting them, or commission a piece from someone else.

Alternatively, you may be able to look at what they’re wearing and include other things that are part of their ensemble. For example, I have a menz who loves high-end suits. So I might be able to use various fancier suit-bits in a shrine setup (think cuff links, tie bars, etc). I’ve got another entity that wears nothing but black and silver, and so his shrine space is quite literally nothing but black, silver, and white. I’ve got another menz who loves coffee and leather, and so I use those items to lure him into talking to me.

Use all of those notes that you took to find different things that you think might be helpful in creating a shrine/stable place that they might like. Keep in mind that this could change as you get to know the entity better. It’s entirely common to pick slightly off-base things when you first start out. That’s fine. The most important here is to find a place to start. Things tend to fall into place as you progress and get better at communicating.

Bridging the Gap

Speaking of communication, it’s worth noting that it may be very rough at first. When I first really started to try and work with my menz, communication was really really patchy. I couldn’t see worth a damn and I could barely hear on top of that. I’ve mentioned in the past that this sort of work has a learning curve, and so it’s important to remember to be consistent and persistent. It takes time and consistent effort (on both ends) for this sort of thing to work out and get easier.

When it comes to communicating with unknown entities, I’ve found that there are a few things that helped me bridge the gap. First is that I always brought some kind of energy or sustenance for the entity. Sometimes that involves raising energy using my body. Other times I would use music or sound as a form of energy. Other times it would be offerings or food. And sometimes a mixture of all of these. The reasons for this are two-fold. First is that the entity will possibly be inclined to work up the effort to come meet me because I’m giving them sustenance for their effort. I’m essentially paying them for their time, so they will be more inclined to prioritize seeing me. The second reason is that I’ve found that it often helps me to communicate better. This is less the case with food, but music, dancing or words of power will often help put my mind into a specific space that is ideal for working with the Unseen. And if both I and the entity are listening to the same thing, it helps to sync us up for better communication.

As mentioned above, I also found that consistency of timing helped, too. All of my menz know that I am available to talk during my lunch break, my walk home (which used to be my drive home), and after I have taken my nightly medication (all of which happen at about the same time every day). Back when I had more time to dedicate to the Unseen, I also had meditation/dance sessions regularly during the week during which we’d be able to talk or communicate with one another. Consistency helped all of us, because they could plan their day and include me in their planning/schedule. The consistency meant that we could sometimes dedicate one day to menz A, and another day to menz B, and everyone would get relatively equal attention and time. It also created something predictable, and if something came up on either side in terms of a conflict of schedule, we’d be able to notify the other that we wouldn’t be able to make it. That way, no one was left waiting around wondering why the other wasn’t showing up.

In many ways, it’s the same as having a relationship with a human. You usually make plans and plan for a certain time to meet up. I have found that using this system works for the Unseen, too.

But what if I get it wrong?

I think the biggest fear and hurdle so many people who worship unknown entities have is that they’ll screw up royally and ruin everything. Speaking as someone who has gotten it wrong several time over, both with known and unknown entities, I’d definitely say that getting things wrong is not the worst thing in the world. It’s normal to mess up. It’s normal to possibly not get things exactly right the first time you do stuff. Most entities that aren’t well known on earth come into relationships with an understanding that humans are limited in what they can glean from brief interactions with the Unseen. And if the entity you’re working to get to know gets cranky that you’re not up to speed fast enough, remind them that you’re doing the best, and possibly ask them if they have suggestions to make things easier for the both of you.

Sometimes entities will be able to give you better ideas than what I’ve given here. Each relationship is different, and entities from other parts of the Unseen may benefit from other methods than what I’ve listed above. These are simply guidelines to help get you started. If your entity has other suggestions, I recommend looking into them, because they certainly know their specific situation better than I would.

Have you ever worked with a relatively unknown entity? How did you build your relationship with them? What challenges have you faced that are different from working with known entities?

Related posts:

A note: A lot of these posts do focus on known gods, but the concepts are applicable to non-gods and unknown entities as well.

 

 

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A Day of Tinkering

When everything came to Be during the very First Time, everyone agreed that everything was perfect and in its proper place. Time flowed perfectly and the holidays and seasoned synced in perfect harmony. The gods reveled in how everything aligned so well for them. Their world and existence centered around ma’at and Zep Tepi, and this allowed them to keep their world in harmony with seasons, holidays and mythical time all working together in a circular fashion.

However, the humans lived in a place where try as they may, Zep Tepi could only be enacted and recreated for short amounts of time. As the era of humans began to sprawl forever in one direction, they found that time progressed further and further away from Zepi Tepi. Their calendars and seasons became unaligned and everything started to become chaotic for them.

As the calendar and seasons slowly drifted further and further apart, the humans began to reach out to the gods for assistance. “How can we celebrate our holidays when they are drastically so far away from the natural phenomena that they are tied to? How can you expect us to celebrate Wep Ronpet when we are in the middle of harvest?” they asked. “How are we to raise the djed when there is no water in the Nile?” they bemoaned. “How can we properly keep track of time and keep everything in it’s place if our calendar is not effective?”

At first the gods didn’t understand the humans’ requests- time was flowing perfectly for them in the Duat. Everything was in its place, and time was flowing as it should. However, as the situation for the humans dragged on, they slowly began to realize that things were out of alignment. They received petitions for a good yearly flood when the Nile had already left its silt in the valley and was starting to recede. They received offerings of thanks for a great harvest during planting season. Nothing was lining up at all anymore!

Concerned about what would happen if the problem wasn’t addressed, the gods formed a tribunal to figure out what to do. How could they help the humans keep their time on the correct course? Linear time was slightly foreign to them, and they weren’t sure what the best solution was, so they sought out the Netjer who knew the most about time: Djehuty.

They presented their problem to him, and as they were recounting all of the problems that this situation was causing, he pulled out a large map of the stars and began to analyze the situation. There was a long silence after their story was finished, during which Djehuty continued to look into the options that could be utilized to fix the differences between the linear time of humans and the cyclical time of the gods.

“The simplest answer that I can think of,” he said “is to add in another day upon the year every four years. We can call it a Day of Tinkering. This should allow the calendar to stay in harmony with the annual cycles of the year, and with that everything should fall into place.” The gods were ecstatic that he had found a means to solve their problem, and with such little effort, too! As they celebrated and began to send out messengers to tell the humans, Djehuty reminded them that this wouldn’t have become such a huge problem if only the gods would have worked to solve it sooner. “When you ignore the little things, they very quickly turn into big problems,” he told them as he put up his scrolls. “Remind the humans of this, too, when you give them the news.”

And as such, the Day of Tinkering, or as we know it February 29, became a day to address the small problems in your life before they snowball into larger problems.

Ways to Celebrate:

So how does one celebrate the Day of Tinkering? I think the answer to this might depend on what specifically you need to address in your life and where it is that you need to end up between now and the next Day of Tinkering. As they say “look at your life, look at your choices.” Where are you wanting to end up in the next four years? What is currently working in your life? What isn’t? Once you’ve taken an honest look at where you are and where you want to be, you can start to figure out what to tinker with in order to get where you want to be.

Think about experimenting with new ideas and thoughts that can be implemented between now and the next Day of Tinkering. Do you want to have more structure to your life? What sorts of things could you look into to create such a structure? What can you do in order to make sure you stick to that structure? Do you want a better job? What can you do to increase your chances of either getting a better position within your current company or to possibly find work with another company? Perhaps you have a boatload of shadow work to work on. What can you add to your current shadow work to make it more effective?

Remember that not everything needs to be enacted on this particular day. If anything, take the time to play with the ideas that you could work with or implement. Take this holiday to explore your options thoroughly before you pick on (or several). If you have many options and aren’t sure which ones to try out, maybe create a timeline to implement different options at different times to test them out. Maybe give option A a two week trial, and then try out option B for a few weeks to see which one works better.

And of course, don’t forget to let Djehuty know about your tinkering. Leave him an offering or two and let him know some of the changes you’re considering making. Maybe if you’re lucky, he’ll give you a few more ideas to consider on top of what you’ve already thought up!

Other Modern Holidays:

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2016 in Kemeticism

 

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A Religion of Boredom

Religion is great, right? You get to learn new stuff. You get to develop a personal practice that works well for your needs. You get the opportunity to develop relationships with the gods. You get the chance to give the gods cool stuff, and sometimes they give cool stuff back. You get to try new things, and many times you get to work on your personal stuff, too. It’s a never-ending trail of “where the hell are we going, again?”

But the truth of the matter is, no matter how much religioning you do, religion can be incredibly boring from time to time.

You know the kind I mean. It’s the kind where you wake up one morning, and you’re preparing your offerings for shrine, and you realize “Wow, I’ve done this same ritual for 6 months now. And I haven’t heard a single peep from the gods in almost the same amount of time. And I think I’ve offered them the same basic offerings for the past two weeks. And wow this is boring- why am I doing this again?” And then once you’ve hit that point, most of us get this rush of fear and anxiety. We begin to wonder if we’re doing it wrong. “Is it okay to not hear from the gods for 6 months? Is it bad to offer the same exact thing day after day? Oh no, maybe they’re not talking to me because I’m doing it wrong!” And so everything rushes down the gutter as the waves of inadequacy wash over you.

But like I said above- religion is sometimes boring. For everyone.

There will always be times when your gods don’t hang around much. There will always be times when you’re not asked or required to do a whole lot in terms of service to the gods. Even the priests in ancient times had breaks in their service. And even when you are being asked to get things done, there will always be times when you still feel pretty bored or inadequate. There will always be lulls in what you’re doing.

I think that the idea of boredom having a place in religion is foreign to us because so much of the media that is out there for us to consume about religion (and paganism specifically) purports this idea that there is always something going on. It’s been stated in many places that people rarely write about when nothing is happening. It’s hard to make posts out of literal nothing, and many of us don’t bother to write about the day to day, more mundane aspects of our practices. This is a great disservice to the wider community, because I think that many newcomers assume that once you start running down the hill into paganism, that you never stop running.

But if you never stopped running, your legs would get awful tired. If you don’t stop going full steam ahead, eventually you will tire out. In that respect, we need some aspect of boredom in our practice. We need to have times where nothing major is going on, so that we can recuperate and gather up our energy for other things.

For a comparison, think of your daily life. Do you ever take time to rest or wish that you had time to rest? Do you have a job that is non-stop go go go go go go GO GO GO? And if your job is like that, do you ever wish that there was a brief point in time where you could just sit at your desk and simply be for a few minutes? If your religion ran you ragged, you’d feel the same way. Even in our current society (speaking for the US), you are legally entitled to two breaks per day, because it’s well known that rested workers work better.

If we apply those same concepts to religion, I think that it would make sense that the gods would step back from time to time to allow us room to breath. If we are constantly running all the time, we will burn out. We need time to go through the basic motions without anything additional thrown onto the pile. And in turn, it’s very likely that the gods need their own time, too. Even if a deity only has about 50 devotees- imagine how much time must be spent giving daily attention to each and every individual, on top of whatever the deity is already working on. The gods have a lot going on that isn’t centered on us or our shrine and offering habits. It makes sense that they won’t always be around.

Okay, so boredom is normal, and sometimes necessary. What do I do about it?

If you google “relationship boredom” you will find that there are thousands of hits talking about nearly every aspect of relationships and how people react when they become normal (read: boring). Out of all of the angles that could be covered about relationships and their normalcy, you’ll find the most common topic is “how to make your relationship exciting again”. There are posts that are similar to that in the religious community, too. If you read through the KRT topic on Fallow Time, you’ll see that many people give some suggestions for how to break out of a fallow period and restart your religious practice again. However, being bored isn’t quite the same as fallow time. Fallow time usually involves a complete breakdown or degradation of your religious practice. Boredom is usually a sign that things are becoming normal or stable.

Speaking as someone who has been in a relationship with the same person for about ten years now, I can assure everyone who is reading that boredom is part of every solid relationship. There are some days that my SO and I don’t hardly talk at all because there is so little to talk about. We sit at our respective computers and work on our personal endeavors. We get up and spend a little time together, and then go back to doing our own thing. This isn’t a sign that we’re dysfunctional as much as it is a sign that we’re comfortable.

You can’t expect each day to have new and exciting stuff. When you live a relatively repetitive life (which most of us do), you’re going to have days when nothing exciting is going on. This isn’t necessarily bad, it’s simply a part of life. By trying to fight this regularity, you’re creating unnecessary stress for yourself that needn’t be there. Don’t be afraid of consistency or the boredom you may initially feel when you realize things have become somewhat wrote. You’re not doing anything wrong. Surely the priests in antiquity got bored with the same daily rituals that would be performed day after day after day. And when that boredom struck, I’m fairly certain the temple didn’t up and decide to spice things up by changing the structure of the shrine rituals. I’m fairly confident that the gods are used to the daily grind of consistent rites and offerings because that’s how it was done “back in the day”. If anything, its we modern practitioners that need to learn to become more okay with consistency and repetition.

So instead of telling you how to make your practice more exciting again, I’m going to recommend something very different. I’m going to suggest that you learn to become okay with the feeling. Remind yourself that this is part of the process of something new becoming something normal, and that the rites and offerings in antiquity rarely changed, so it shouldn’t be a huge deal if you do the same rites and give the same offerings day after day after day. When the first wave of “oh no, I’m messing up” hits you, take a step back and tell yourself that it’s okay. Push through the feelings as best as you can and keep performing your rites as you normally would and see how the feeling shifts or changes over time. Odds are you’ll find that everything becomes more okay as you continue your practice.

Have you ever felt bored with your religious practice? How did you handle these feelings? Any advice for anyone experiencing boredom in their religious pursuits?

Related Posts:

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2016 in Kemeticism

 

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Mysteries 2015, Pt 2

A month ago I locked one of my patron deities in a box. Shortly beforehand, he told me to spend the month of solitude “taking care of myself.” I didn’t like this idea, as I had mentioned in my first post on this year’s Mysteries, but I decided to roll with it, as I feared that ignoring his request demand would result in missing out on a learning opportunity of some kind. I’m one of those annoying people that runs headlong into everything that the gods throw at them, even if the task is suckfest, because I’m always looking for the chance to improve or learn.

So I did what he asked. I placed him in the shrine, locked the doors and did nothing for a month. Or at least, nothing overly religious. The ideas I had had about blogging about mourning, the rituals I wanted to do, all of it got put on hold in an attempt to do nothing but “take care of myself” as Osiris had asked of me.

As the month passed, I pondered about whether I should be doing anything more for O while he went through his annual “rejuvenation vacation”. Should I give him incense every day? Should I be actively mourning? Should I be contemplating life and death? And then I’d remind myself that I’m not supposed to really be doing anything that didn’t play a role in self-care. He didn’t give me instructions beyond taking care of myself, and yet all I could think to do was find ways to put myself out in an attempt to honor Him.

I’m not good at this, sometimes.

Even though I was constantly worrying about what I “should” be doing, deep down I knew that I didn’t really want to think about death or mourning. I had had so much experience mourning over the previous year that it was the last thing I wanted to think about. In a way, I was probably a little bit happy that he wasn’t leading me through gut-wrenching adventures this year. It’s very true that I even though I wanted to do more for the Mysteries, I desperately needed a break from everything I had been through. But even though I was doing my best to take care of myself and not worry about Him or what the Mysteries entail, I found myself thinking about mourning all the same. I’d watch something thinking that it would be okay, but then there would be a character who had lost someone- a friend, a family member, their dog- and suddenly I’d be thinking about death again. I’d slip back into the depths of my own mind and constantly remind myself of what I had lost.

Even though he had told me to not focus on the Mysteries, the themes of the holiday found me all the same. If there is something that I’ve learned about death and mourning over this past year, it’s that it finds you whether you want it to or not. In many ways, it’s out of your control.

I want to diver for a moment and mention that normally I wouldn’t have made a second post about this set of Mysteries. My “celebrations” (inasmuch as anything tied to the Mysteries is a celebration) included things like lighting incense when I felt inclined, fiddling with the beads that O made me wear while I scrolled through tumblr, or leaving water in front of Set’s icon so that he wouldn’t get thirsty. And those were only the productive celebrations. Aside from these things there were plenty of days where I did nothing but be a sack of sadness, or where I’d sit in my chair and disassociate for half an hour.

When it’s all said and done, I did very little for this year’s rites. Because I did so little, and because there is no overarching take home point to tell all of you about, I usually wouldn’t bother to even bring it up to begin with. I’d move on to other posts and other topics that might have a more perceived benefit for my readers than telling you about the month where I wallowed in depression.

However, it’s also a pretty well-known problem that a lot of people assume that people like me always have something going on. “Everyone else has more involved practices than I do. They are able to do so much more!” And I wanted to give you an example of what my practice commonly does look like. I have periods of intense work (such as the Mysteries of 2013), and those are often followed up with months of very little- much like what you’re reading about here.

Not every holiday will be spectacular. Not every rite will be mind blowing or eye opening. Sometimes the only point a god is trying to get home to you is that you are worth taking care of, and that you need to take care of yourself. Sometimes doing nothing is good, even if it’s not what we want.

mysteries_open

By the time the month was drawing to a close, I was super ready to open the shrine again. Upon thinking about it more, I believe that part of the reason that I wanted to do so much was because I wanted to reconnect with the gods after having been gone for so long, and I think this played a role in wanting to skip the final day and open everything up early. However, I can understand that those feelings are misplaced when I allow them to drive me into doing too much and losing all of my spoons, and as such, I forced myself to wait the full cycle before opening the doors. I finally had gotten some flowers to place in my mini-vase, and so I adorned the shrine with them in celebration of Osiris’s return.

That is a summation of the Mysteries of 2015. A whole lot of sitting around and doing very little. Sometimes that’s all you can do. Sometimes that’s all you should do. And sometimes it’s a little bit of both.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2016 in Kemeticism

 

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